To mark the completion of the first quarter of the season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the goalie voted to be the best in the League by NHL general managers.
The Arizona Coyotes are on the right track toward ending a seven-year hiatus from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and goalie Darcy Kuemper is driving the train.
The 29-year-old has played 15 games and entered Friday leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.935), as well as leading the Coyotes' charge on a 13-6-2 run since losing the first two games of the season.
Arizona, which hasn't made the playoffs since its trip to the Western Conference Final in 2012, is second in the Pacific Division (13-8-2), three points behind the Edmonton Oilers.
"I think we've just got a good mix of depth that everyone's playing on the same page, everyone's playing the right way," Kuemper said. "We're going into games with the mindset that we're going to win.
"When you're thinking like that, it doesn't really matter how the game goes. We stick with it and we believe that we're in every game and we're going to win every game. I think that's why we're having so much success."
Video: CBJ@ARI: Kuemper sprawls out to rob Atkinson
A panel of 20 NHL.com writers voted for the winner of the Vezina Trophy after the first quarter of the season, and the consensus was Kuemper has been the League's top goalie thus far by a large margin; he received 76 points and nine first-place votes. Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues and Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders finished second and third in the voting, respectively.
Kuemper and Antti Raanta have formed a tandem that has allowed 52 goals, tied for second-fewest in the NHL, including a shutout for each in back to back games against the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 16 and 18. Arizona hadn't had consecutive shutouts since a three-game streak from March 29-April 3, 2012.
"We've got a 1-2 punch here that's pretty special," Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said.
It should remain intact for a bit too; Kuemper, who had a .925 save percentage in an NHL career-high 55 games for the Coyotes last season, signed a two-year contract extension Oct. 2.
"We're just kind of growing up as a group," Kuemper said. "The game previous doesn't really affect the next day; we wake up and we know it's a new day. … No excuses; new day, new game and come with the same attitude."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Darcy Kuemper, Coyotes, 76 points (nine first-place votes); Jordan Binnington, Blues, 42 points (four first-place votes); Thomas Greiss, Islanders, 41 points (two first-place votes); Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars, 40 points (three first-place votes); Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, 36 points (one first-place vote); Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets, 22 points (one first-place vote); Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens, 13 points; Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins, 10 points; Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights, 7 points; Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers, 7 points; Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks, 3 points; Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2 points; David Rittich, Calgary Flames, 1 point.